The i3 introduced BMW buyers to the idea of a BMW-branded electric car. Now, it’s done its job and it’s time to move on.
Pieter Nota, BMW’s sales and marketing chief, told the Financial Times there’s "no specific plan for an i3 successor".
"We are now bringing electrification more to the mainstream," he said.
That appears to be a reference to both the i3’s quirky styling and its unique market positioning. Although the i3 is 320mm shorter than the new 1 Series hatchback, it has a higher base price than its stablemate and is also undercut by members of the 2 Series, 3 Series, X1, X2 and X3 ranges.
Nota noted the i3 would continue to be produced for several years instead of following BMW’s usual lifecycle lengths. Given it was introduced in 2013, a replacement would typically be due in a year or two. Nota’s remarks suggest the i3 could stick around even longer.
Instead of an i3 replacement, BMW intends to develop both new pure-electric cars as well as plug-in hybrid versions of its existing lineup. BMW has already announced that, by 2023, it plans to have 13 pure-electric cars in its range. That includes the upcoming iX3 crossover and i4 four-door coupe.
News of the i3’s scheduled demise is rather surprising. BMW’s EV has continued to increase its global sales every year despite its advancing age and it recently ticked past 150,000 sales. It’s also received plenty of critical acclaim, while Pieter Nota himself has credited the i3 with having a pioneering role.
It never really caught fire in Australia, however. In 2015, its first full year of sales here, BMW shifted 150 examples. Commendably, that meant it outsold the cheaper Nissan Leaf but Lexus sold five times as many of its hybrid CT200h. Sales have languished around the 100-unit mark every year since.
That means the i3 is typically outsold by the flagship 7 Series, though it manages a better trade than other unconventional BMWs like the Gran Turismo family.
The i3 also extensively uses expensive carbon-fibre in its construction and shares its chassis only with the low-volume i8, whereas BMW's upcoming EVs will share much with their ICE-powered counterparts.
The discontinuation of the i3 is part of a change in BMW’s electric vehicle strategy. Its first i-branded models – the i3 and i8 – were designed to be dramatically different in appearance from regular BMWs. So too was the aborted i5 hatchback, which we reported was cancelled in 2017.
Contrast these designs with the upcoming iX3 and i4, of which we published spy photos several months ago. Stylistically, the imminent electrics appear to be largely similar to their ICE-powered siblings, the X3 and upcoming 4-Series Gran Coupe.